Resident physician wellness and prevention of burnout has become an area of concern and considerable research. In 2015, an estimated 29 percent of physicians in training showed signs of depression or depressive symptoms. An increased rate of suicide for physicians in practice, compared with the general population, was also detected.

And while seeking out mental health services is a key factor to prevent burnout, suicide and ensuring physicians’ well-being, their utilization of these resources remains low despite efforts to promote them.  

These findings prompted a group of School of Medicine clinical faculty, including Sarah Sofka, M.D., associate professor and program director of Internal Medicine, Carl Grey, M.D., former assistant professor, Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care, Nathan Lerfald, M.D., associate professor and vice chair of Medicine, Laura Davisson, M.D., associate professor and associate program director of Internal Medicine, and Janie Howsare, M.S.W., associate professor of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry, to initiate a research project with the purpose of improving access and use of mental health services.

Their research entitled “Implementing a universal well-being assessment to mitigate barriers to resident utilization of mental health resources,” was recently published in the Journal of Graduate Medical Education (JGME).

To increase WVU residents' use of counseling services through the faculty and staff assistance program (FSAP), the researchers implemented a universal well-being assessment, with an opt-out strategy.

The research concluded that offering residents a well-being assessment may have mitigated barriers to using counseling resources. Having all residents scheduled for a counseling session reduced the stigma of seeking mental health services by scheduling a wellness day for all first- and second-year residents. With these changes, the majority of participants reported high satisfaction and a high likelihood they would seek out services for burnout, depression, or anxiety.